Champions Of The Octagon: The Eye Test

The UFC’s champs have earned the right to call themselves the best in the world at what they do, and, love them or hate them, there’s a reason to watch all of them.

It could be agreed upon, though, that some might be more watchable than others. After all, some people don’t vibe with Dominick Cruz’s point fighting style, and others aren’t really into Junior dos Santos because heavyweight MMA is heavyweight MMA. Bloodthirsty fans might not have love for Georges St-Pierre because of his perceived lack of finishing ability, and old school folks might turn their noses up at Anderson Silva because of his alleged showboating.

The following column will be a list of the UFC’s champs, in my own personal “How watchable are they?” order. Disclaimer: THIS IS NOT A RANKINGS COLUMN. Rankings have never done much for me other than make my head hurt. In fact, the only thing that makes my head hurt more than rankings are pound for pound rankings. I have no interest in arguing whether or not Cub Swanson is a better pound for pound guy than Alexander Gustafsson. So, that’s not what I’m trying to convey with this list. I’m not saying that any of these champions are “better” than the others. It’s just about who I’d prefer to watch, starting from the “least watchable” to “most watchable.” We clear? Excellent.

Least watchable (#8): Ben “Smooth” Henderson

Henderson should be 0-2 this year, but it’s a moot point. It’s a moot point because I’m unsure what Henderson’s elite skill is. Submission defense, maybe? Can you be considered elite at something that directly involves you being put in peril?

Henderson’s fights might be more objectively exciting than some of the guys ahead of him on this list, but several things about him have always irked me. His boxing is probably the worst of any UFC champ. His hair is annoying. The things he says are annoying (Never mind the self-centered “Praise God!” stuff … he responds to his coach asking him “Can you give me 5 more minutes?” with jock-ish drivel like “I can give you 15, coach.” We would NOT have gotten along in high school.) Granted, these things aren’t directly related to his fighting style, but they have been known to influence the way I watch his fights, especially if alcohol is involved.

He’s going to relinquish his belt to Nate Diaz, though. I’ll be interested to see how he reacts to Diaz cursing him out during exchanges, sticking his head out, and possibly submitting him while simultaneously giving him the finger. Will he still publicly give it up to the Lord?

Exciting fighter, top five lightweight … but he’s keeping that belt warm for that dude from Stockton.

#7: Jose “Scarface” Aldo

Please don’t misunderstand my low placement of Aldo on this list. It’s due in large part to the fact that he’s been injured so frequently. It’s not just the injuries, either; it’s the nature of the injuries. How could any guy with a UFC deal ever get on a motorcycle?

As electrifying as Aldo can be, he’s also seemed vulnerable in spots. The most obvious example is the spirited 10-8 beating that Mark Hominick gave him in the 5th round of their title fight at UFC 129, but even in that Kenny Florian fight, he didn’t do much other than completely stifle Florian from doing anything.

His title tilt with Frank Edgar should be a good one, but it’s a tough one to predict, because it feels like it’s been forever since Aldo last fought. Any Chad Mendes-type violence, and he’ll catapult up this list. He just needs to stay healthy, and I’m there.

#6: Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson

Here’s where we arrive at the “Heavily criticized fighters that I’m about to vehemently defend” portion of the list. Demetrious Johnson has a style that judges love, mixing blinding footwork and smooth in and out striking with lightning quick takedowns.

I had to.

Watching Mighty Mouse reminds me of that undersized kid from everyone’s childhood that bullies would try to pick on, unaware that he could run like the wind and succeed at making them swing at air. He isn’t known to do much damage, but I’d pay money just to watch this guy do footwork drills. He doesn’t have great top control, but that leads to more of those fast twitch takedowns.

DJ is a pleasure to watch in scrambles. Joe Rogan can definitely be hyperbolic, but I agree with his assessment of Mighty Mouse: Nobody gets to his feet faster than DJ. And now that he’s the flyweight champion (as well as the man who gave Dom Cruz his toughest title defense), nobody is going to take him out without doing something incredible, either.

#5: Dominick “The Dominator” Cruz

There are some people who will never enjoy watching Cruz, simply based on the fact that he’s a point fighter that isn’t known to finish. His detractors will always criticize him for not being a “warrior”, for not “coming to fight” for “running away”, and for other brainless concepts that have no basis in reality.

If you carry this kind of reputation with fans, you’d better be bringing something to the table in the personality department if you want to blossom into someone who sells pay-per-views. Look at Michael Bisping; he isn’t the most balls-to-the-wall fighter in the world, but his crotchety personality garners him lots of attention. This ain’t happening for Cruz, who just doesn’t captivate people despite being an intelligent, thoughtful guy.

He’s enjoyable to watch because he sets up his strikes from interesting angles. He’ll jump, jive, deke, two step, C-Walk, look like he’s killin’ it to “U Can’t Touch This” … then, just as you’re wondering whats happening, he’ll zing you with a right hand. He leaves his chin dangerously high sometimes, and he’s paid for it before. I could see Cruz getting finished at some point, but good luck trying to corner him, and good luck trying to take him down.

Stay tuned for the conclusion of this list tomorrow.

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